Griffith University: Griffith Women in STEM Highly Commended

Two inspiring Griffith University trailblazers have been recognised at the 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize, receiving Highly Commended Awards.

STEM Outreach Manager and Program Leader in the office of the Pro Vice Chancellor (Sciences) Sally McPhee and Honours candidate in the School of Environment and Science Kate Kingston were among an elite group of five exceptional Queensland female STEM professionals to receive awards.

Kate was applauded for her work in investigating techniques for wine growers to improve their soil health by adding organic matter known as biochar and Sally for taking cutting-edge STEM out of the labs and onto the streets by providing STEM pathways, leadership and engagement opportunities for school students and improving teacher confidence and capability in science.

Sally said she was especially grateful for the award but insists it was a team effort.

“It’s wonderful to receive this recognition, but it wouldn’t be possible without our team or the support from Griffith University,” she said.

“I am the current manager of two community-based STEM engagement programs operating across South East Qld: Science on the GO! (SoTG) and the Griffith Science Education Alliance.

“Since their inception in 2005 and 2006 respectively, these programs have engaged more than 545,000 Queenslanders, over 330,000 school students, over 16,000 participants in teacher professional learning and over 200,000 members of the public.

“At its core, my role is about fostering a scientifically literate community and inspiring school students to stay in STEM subjects.”

“This is especially important for young women who are under-represented in STEM, but we need to increase this representation to have equal access to the future STEM-centric workforce.”

Kate Kingston’s research investigates how using biochar to increase soil carbon content affects nitrogen transformation processes in vineyard soil from South East Queensland.

The wine industry is at the forefront of climate change impact due to the sensitivity of the grape vines to environmental change.

Her achievements make her a worthy role model for girls aspiring to work in STEM roles, not the least of which because she is hearing impaired.

“As a deaf woman my academic success is an achievement and testament to my drive for excellence (because) the reality is that deaf and hard of hearing students are disadvantaged regardless of the high level of assistance from disability inclusion programs within higher educational bodies,” she said.

“My STEM academic record includes graduating Bachelor of Environmental Science with Distinction with a GPA of 6.5 and Academic Excellence awards for every year of my enrolment in 2017, 2017-2018, 2018 and 2019. Currently my GPA is 7 and I am working towards achieving First Class Honours.”

Kate said new technology and discoveries made through STEM have changed her life and she wants to pay it forward.

“I am fortunate that due to technological progress from STEM, I can wear powerful and sophisticated hearing aids in both of my ears,” she explained.

“I can use blue-tooth technology to talk on the phone and conduct online meetings and access closed captioning whenever possible.

“STEM enables me to interact and travel widely in the hearing world.”

“Despite technological progress, listening and interacting with people is still a challenge that I and other hard of hearing and deaf people experience every day.

“With my academic and early career STEM achievements, my goal is to inspire deaf and hard of hearing children and mature age as well as single mothers to strive for a fulfilling life in STEM.”

Minister for Science and Youth Affairs Meaghan Scanlon congratulated all award winners and nominees for demonstrating how Queensland’s women in STEM were leading the way in their fields of expertise and breaking barriers.

“It’s our women in STEM like the Chief Health Officer that have lead Queensland’s response and recovery from COVID-19,” Minister Scanlon said.

“Kate Kingston has been a key part of improving soil health for wine growers by adding biochar, and Sally McPhee has played a fundamental role in providing STEM pathways, leadership and engagement opportunities for school students.”

The Queensland Women in STEM prize is presented by Queensland Museum Network in partnership with the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist and Office for Women.